The Planet Earth’s highest definition in the limited human perception that we have of it in context of the Universe is that it is a harbour to what mankind refers to as life. Yet, another definition that can easily be attributed to it is that it is a centre of imbalance.
Each country has a resource which defines it. When we talk about our nation, India, it is undoubtedly its people. Yet despite that lofty proclamation, no government in the last millennium in any part of our country can claim to have done full justice to that resource. From the Ryotwari system in the Mughal period which began as a simple tax accountability measure to the full fledged Zamindari system under British rule, demarcations in Indian society were set in stone for the generations of today to follow.
Cut to 1947. India gains Independence, the zamindars, princely states and feudal establishments were dissolved. The Republic of India, a nation following the modern definitions of democracy was established. The peasant’s call was heard. The common man was finally empowered. Power was finally devolved to the man on the street. Or was it?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Names changed, but the roles stayed the same. The Constitution of the Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India defines the first Fundamental Right of every Citizen of India as the ‘Right to Equality’. It is ironic then, that Indian society is nothing but one constituted of extremes.
It is my opinion that of the numerous causes of Criminalisation of Politics in India, the foremost would be a lack of equitability.
Every society has a hierarchy. It is a law of nature. However, in societies termed as the developed political establishments of the world, a clear contrast can be drawn from the Indian situation. Like a simple supply and demand problem, their populations carry greater value.
As is amply demonstrated, crime and corruption in a political context are social ills which are as deeply entrenched in the fabric of the common Indian man’s life as any of the home truths that are taught to a child.
It all begins with the most primitive of arguments. Mr. A has a big car. Mr. B has a big house. Mr. C has neither. He is a common government clerk working a 9 to 5 routine, day in and day out to scrape a living for myself and my family. He is not happy with what he has.
Discontent grows. Mr. C walks the cobblestones on the pavement while Mr. A and Mr. B travel everywhere in their cars. Mr. C wants more. And he falls in the vicious circle that is the vicious circle of under the table deals, and bribes for signatures.
Perhaps the most accurate description of Indian society is that it is constituted of extremes. But beyond any reasonable doubt, these extremes, this inequitable distribution of wealth, resources and in turn, happiness, are the cause of moral failings in the society, and consequently, in the individuals who represent that society. Perhaps what best defines this problem is the quality of life the common citizen leads. India’s case in point, is one where 25% of the population lives below the poverty line; yet we also boast of having the third greatest number of billionaires in our country.
We want to eradicate criminalisation of politics. We must first eradicate the inequitability in the standards of life different Indians lead today.
In the present context corruption is so deeply linked with power that our politicians have adopted a cynical attitude toward political morality. Maneuvering the anti-defection law for electoral politics with the help of both money and muscle power and other unfair means for the sake of power have affected the political morality of all the political parties and as such none of them can claim themselves to be faithful to nation in true sense.
The limbless Bureaucrat
In an ideal scenario, the Indian structure of governance is what could be called a near-perfect system. The concept of elected representatives working for the welfare of their constituency while formulating legislation for the progress of the country, while being supported by a comprehensive support system that is the bureaucracy is one which should ideally lead to the development of a functional working state.
The stark realities of the Indian political landscape, however, are a departure from these ideas, to say the least. The chronic malaise of criminalization runs like a poison through every artery of the Indian polity; according to the most recent statistic, one in five Members of Parliament have a criminal record.
As of status quo, a single corrupt member of the polity destroys the integrity of an entire department, even an entire State Government. A Minister of a department or a corporation accepts kickbacks. As a bureaucrat, you can either rat him out, be the office whistleblower, and be shunted from portfolio to portfolio. Or you can facilitate those criminal ends, and live a life of luxury an IAS officer’s salary cannot afford. How many individuals can make the tougher choice?
The Executive arm of the Indian democracy is largely driven by the body of officials selected by the Union Public Service Commission of India and of the different states of India. In essence, it is a highly efficient selection process, of examining individually the merit of each applicant – both academic and administrative. In a society largely driven by arbitrary divides of power and status, it is a shining example of the possibility of an Indian meritocracy. Sadly, brilliant as the UPSC tests may be, there really is no test for integrity.
In my opinion, the there is a need for separation of powers of the bureaucracy and the polity. While it is recognized that India is indeed a democracy, there is no need for a political leader to control a portfolio or department which he likely has no professional qualification to handle. A more palatable solution to the equation would be to delegate all working responsibilities to bureaucrat with the necessary qualifications for the job, just like one would hire the CEO of a major company. This would ensure not only more efficient working of the corporation, but greater transparency and accountability as well. The bureaucrat will finally have the license to bring new ideas and streamlined solutions to problems whose gravity cannot be perceived by a member of the polity who is not qualified to understand them.
Are the scales of India’s Lady Justice weighted?
The symbolism of Lady Justice is beautiful. The blindfold indicates an objectivity which cannot be provided by a mortal human, while the scales weigh the merits and demerits of both arguments. In keeping with the metaphor, the judge hears the arguments, filters out the half-facts and presumptive arguments, and presents facts – only cold, hard truths for Lady Justice to weigh. It is a perfect system. Except that it is not.
In the Global Corruption Report 2007 by international corruption watchdog Transparency International, has taken the Indian Judiciary to task. It says that ‘’bribes seem to be solicited as the price of getting things done”. The estimated amount paid in bribes in a 12-month period was found to be around 580 million dollars. ‘’Money was paid to the officials in the following proportions: 61 percent to lawyers; 29 percent to court officials; 5 percent to middlemen.”
“This is a wake-up call not just for India’s legal system, but for society and the state itself”, says Upendra Baxi, a highly regarded Indian jurist, former vice-chancellor of Delhi University, and professor at the University of Warwick in Britain. “It confirms what we have known for years and casts a shadow on the integrity of the judiciary. It also calls for urgent, drastic remedial measures.”
“The report only covers the lower or subordinate judiciary and excludes the judges of the High Courts (of Indian states) and the (national) Supreme Court. There are credible reports that corruption has permeated the higher judiciary too,” Baxi told IPS.
In January 2002, S.P. Bharucha, then India’s chief justice, said that 20 percent of the higher judiciary might be corrupt. In recent years, several upper court judges have been accused of “irregularities”, for instance, in the preferential allotment of valuable land by state governments, and other favours.
The necessity for the separation of powers of different organs in a system of governance has, at length, been discussed in different contexts and debates throughout this paper.
The judiciary, the third arm of the Indian democracy exists as not only as an ombudsman for disputes between individuals or groups of individuals, but also as a conscience for the Indian polity and government. However, the separation of power that the forefathers of our nation desired for the judiciary clearly does not exist. As amply suggested by the report that has been quoted, members of the judiciary today have a lot to gain from a nexus with the politicians who sign their paychecks and recommend their appointments and perks. The Judiciary today, sadly is as much to blame for the criminalization of politics as is any other arm of the Indian government.
2nd Year Student,
Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]